Our research is intended to improve the quality and methodology currently employed by engineers in NZ to support performance-based fire safety designs. Two recent independent audits of performance-based fire safety designs in NZ have concluded that over 90% of fire reports submitted in support of building consent applications did not follow a formal fire engineering process, and over 90% did not use appropriate engineering methods. The audits also noted high reliance on engineering judgement and little attempt to justify a fire engineering design holistically.
This research will develop a building fire design and analysis tool to simulate building fire outcomes in a risk-descriptive format that will account for the variability and uncertainty associated with the development of a fire, the nature and arrangement of the building contents and the inherent reliability and effectiveness of different fire safety features used to mitigate the risk of fire. The intermediate outcome to which this research is directed is to help ensure that the management of fire risks in buildings is cost-effective as well as socially and politically acceptable, leading to innovation in construction, flexibility in design and robustness in fire safety solutions.
Our proposed design tool will use an existing mathematical fire model (BRANZFIRE) for predicting the spread of smoke and development of hazardous conditions in a building. The novel feature of the research will be extending existing knowledge to develop a design tool that allows a wide range of fire scenarios for a building to be simulated within the model, using specialised random sampling techniques for rare events. The tool would provide designers with a means of conducting a sensitivity analysis by proposing input fire scenarios and corresponding fire characteristics suitable as design assumptions for New Zealand buildings. The research will define the relevant characteristics of the range of building types intended for use within the design tool as well as parameters that define the effectiveness and reliability of key fire safety systems. Results would be expressed as probability distributions. A design tool with this capability has not been developed before in New Zealand or elsewhere.
The research team comprises staff from both BRANZ and University of Canterbury, one PhD student and nine masters-level graduate students over a 5 year period. Collaboration between the two organisations, each with an established track record of fire research, increases the overall depth of the research team and provides a good balance between experienced and newer researchers. Two members of the research team are currently working with DBH (a key stakeholder) helping to develop quantitative criteria for a new building code. We also have regular contact with practicing engineers through advice/support for current design methods in use, and by involvement in professional bodies such the Society of Fire Protection Engineers as well as through continuing professional development activities. We intend to establish an advisory committee comprising representatives from DBH, NZFS and practising fire engineers to provide guidance during the research and to help implement the results and the use of the design tool developed.